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Abscesses in Rabbits

By: Dr. Branson Ritchie

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Diagnosis In-depth

Your veterinarian may use radiographs (X-rays) or changes in the types of blood cells (CBC) or enzymes found in the blood (blood chemistry) to evaluate the overall health status of a sick animal.

  • Radiographs. The most common radiographic change associated with an abscess is a soft tissue mass in the affected tissue. Radiographs are used to determine if the abscess is invading an underlying bone (requires more aggressive and longer therapy), joint or internal organ. A full set of skull X-rays will determine which tooth roots are infected and need to be pulled. Radiographs may be helpful for determining if a foreign body is the cause of an abscess. Cysts, tumors, hematomas, fibrous scars and granulomas can appear radiographically similar to an abscess. Ultrasound may be used to determine if a mass is fluid-filled or solid and to determine if a foreign body is present in the mass. Some veterinarians may recommend a CT scan to determine the origin and extent of the abscess prior to surgical treatment. This is especially helpful in head abscesses, which may involve multiple teeth, sinuses or the base of the ear.

  • Cytology. To confirm that the swelling is an abscess, and not a tumor, cyst or other type of swelling, your veterinarian may pierce it with a small hypodermic needle to collect cells. Sometimes, white pus will be visible within the syringe following this procedure, confirming the diagnosis. In most cases, microscopic examination of the cells is needed.

  • If the abscess is completely walled-off and encapsulated, then there may be no changes in the white blood cell count. If the abscess has recently formed or is leaking infectious agents to the general circulation, then there may be a substantial increase in the number of white blood cells (neutrophilia) with or without toxic changes in these cells. In rabbits that are septic, the white blood cell may be decreased (neutropenia), with a high proportion of immature cells and/or toxic changes. This finding is associated with a poorer prognosis.

  • Confirming the cause of an abscess is best achieved by obtaining a sample for culture and antimicrobial sensitivity to demonstrate the organism causing the infection. This test will identify the best antibiotic to use in continued treatment of the infection.

    Therapy In-depth

  • Complete surgical removal of an abscess is best if all of the affected tissue can be removed without causing problems in the rabbit. If complete removal is not possible, then as much affected tissue as possible will be surgically removed. Depending on the location of the abscess, your veterinarian may either pack the abscess or leave it open for flushing. In many cases, a substance that continuously elutes antibiotics will be placed within the empty abscess capsule. This could be gauze packing, a gel or bone cement beads which constantly give off antibiotic into the wound. Sometimes, medical honey is packed into the wound. If treated with gauze, the packing will need to be unpacked and re-packed until complete healing is achieved. With some skin abscesses, the wound can be left open to facilitate flushing and healing from the inside to the outside. or may not place a piece of tubing called a drain in your rabbit.

  • Both local or topical and systemic (given by mouth or given by a shot), antimicrobial agents will probably be prescribed for your rabbit.. Long-term antimicrobial therapy may be necessary, particularly when bone is involved.

  • Local abscesses will probably be treated on an outpatient basis. Rabbits with septicemia or with abscesses involving internal organs will probably be hospitalized for the initial treatment period.
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  • Other therapies that may be needed include fluids to correct dehydration and supportive nutrition, if the rabbit is not eating or has lost considerable weight.

  • Treatment is considered successful when a rabbit is removed from antibiotics and remains normal.

    Follow-up Care

    Optimal treatment for your companion rabbit requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your rabbit does not rapidly improve.

  • Make certain you administer all prescribed medications at the appropriate times. Finish the entire course of antibiotics, even if it looks as if the abscess has healed completely. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you have difficulty treating your rabbit as prescribed. If you are having problems, it may be best to hospitalized him to assure that a proper course of treatment is administered.

  • Rabbits that are being treated for abscesses should be isolated from other animals to prevent transmission of infectious agents.

  • For skin abscesses that are left as an open wound, make certain that the abscess stays open so it will heal from the inside to the outside. If a surgically opened abscess closes over, contact your veterinarian immediately.

  • Once all packing has been removed, the swelling should resolve. If antibiotic beads are left inside the wound, you may be able to feel these. If you notice the swelling returning, see your veterinarian immediately.

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